The Time J Messed Up. We begin:
It would be remiss to say the following story you are engaging in is anything but the word for word truth. As a Solutionist, Cyber Ronin, and Truth Warrior, there comes a time when we must apply the doctrine with which we belabor our clients, students, and members in kind (no matter how much ego you have attached to the situation). This memoir is like nothing ever written by me to date. This story my dear reader, begins in all the wrong places. (Wrong in the metaphoric sense of a universal chessboard beginning with a predefined set of rules one should follow in the Cyber game if you will). Please allow this to serve as a lesson of what human nature can and could do to you if you fall weak to your inner desires of becoming the best. Or in less grandiose terms, what can happen when you become thirsty and devoid of all the trainin you may have engaged in for the duration of your career. We must stay focused. We must stay true to our mission no matter the distraction. …Without Further Ado
Five weeks ago, I decided it was time I engaged in a bit of SecConHopping. (A term I’ve identified to marry the barrage of Information Security Conferences I’ve attended this year). Not unlike other years, other than the fact that I decided to leave all of my worldly cares and belongings behind, take Amtrak criss cross around the United States to attend as many information security conferences as possible, and reacquaint myself with was happening in the thick of the InfoSec community.
You see, I’d been away for sometime. Spending my time dealing with the alchemy of arts my firm provides from time to time. Which is usually for clients who either do not understand the arts of Cyber Intelligence or had found themselves in the thick of a situation which tuned them to it. To some, what I do, what WE do is only a reality in the motion picture scene. Having spent 20 official years in the game, it’s no longer a testament of my acumen to prove to anyone this idea is far from the truth. Instead, I have learned the waiting game. Thanks to the humbling and universal love provided by the team of alchemist in this lab we call bits&digits. When a surgical cataclysm, if you will, befalls an institution, a person, or a brand, they call us for a myriad of reasons (most times a sanity check and a recursive Information Security review).
But, that’s not the point of this story. After following some of the most amazing hackers of this day from NOLACON, Circle City Con, and a few others, I found myself in Chicago. While typing away on a proposal (or figuring out how to get the barista to spell “FANOMINAL BLACK MAN” on my Coffee mug – a past time I thoroughly enjoy these days), I received a phone call from a guy with whom I had just finished a wonderful Red Team/ HUNT/CE operation a few months back. Having operated with him in the field, there is a unique kind of respect, and familiarity you have with such associates. Sifting past the ego-laden pleasantries, I first noticed his excitement was very uncommon to me.
This guy is what some consider a Pipe Hitter. A surgical weapon in and of his own existence built on years and years of working in what we call the “Suck,” fields and parameters others only see on TV. The aforementioned said, “I was very surprised to hear him surprised.” This is not something that people afford themselves as a pleasantry having lived the life of the eyes of a million sorrows. We cherish every moment as if it were our last. Enjoying our present devoid of “Surprise.” But this day, he was hella surprised to say the least. #MessageNumeroUno
“Robo, bro, so I’ve got something piping hot for you to play with. I’ve got a very high net worth client that Imma need your shit on. I mean bro… this is hot, and I need you.”
Without delving into the intricacies of the vernacular we shared, I’ll say this. “RoboChicken” was the call sign bestowed upon me in the last operation he and I shared. Outside of the fact that the team of SF, Marine, Pipe Hitting people were so enamored with how much “Cool Shit” I knew how to do, coupling with large doses of watching the latest Mr. Robot and seeing things unfold in real life, one could only surmise the bewilderment when they finally found out the hacker on the other end of the email was BLACK (Beast Labeled All Colored KickAss). They appended Chicken (naturally, lol), and then pieced together RoboChicken. Based on a multitude of reasons, I will not go into why this did or did not offend me. I will say this, there’s another world out there, folks, beyond race that some mock. And know there is a fight between good and evil that transcends race, color, creed, or personal feelings. And I’ve been called much better and much worse; either way, my name for that op was RoboChicken. And it stuck.
“Robo, so I can’t tell you who this client is. But based on all the things you showed me, I can assure you it’s the real deal.” He continued almost without taking a breath. “Wondering if you could run some OSINT.”
Yes, the sound of him using this term made me smile, because I could literally see the words flowing out of his mouth as I recalled him looking over my shoulder wondering why I had so many windows up on my screen. He asked, “What are you doing?” And my reply was sharp and a bit disturbed that this Marine was jockeying my domain. I said matter of factly, “…OSINT Marine. This is called OSINT. You know, the stuff we do to glean intelligence before the operation has any real trajectory. Yes OSINT; now sit back and give me 5 minutes.” I digress.
The Marine, one I respect, continued on and on, as I moderately interrogated the source of his intelligence and how he came across such a person. And, more importantly, I dissected his plans to secure business with this client. I’ve recently learned the lesson of “Business in Ops” from my business partner. Never to be enamored with a clients claims of wants. Center yourself from the distraction. Identify the “ask.” And formulate a “scalable deliverable” that is “mutually advantageous.” I assure you the previous sentence took half a decade longer to comprehend than the seconds it took for my fingers to strike the keys on this MacBook, but the illumination of the lesson should never leave anyone wanting to plant themselves on the otherwise of the cyber game, where lions, tigers, and sharks dwell in abundance, and ego is the fabric of which a guppy makes their breastplate. #MessageNumber2.
After I felt confident this friend had at least dabbled across all of the right points to satisfy my initial concerns for this being either a setup, a backwash from the previous operation, or anything other than this being an operation I should apply more than normal concern and paranoia toward, I dropped the dime as they say. Listening to everything he was saying, and wasn’t, my mind went into autopilot as it does when my Universe is at peace with itself. I start doing the “Matrix Thingy” as one of my friends call it. But in reality, all I’m doing is letting go. Listening to the pauses, the play, allowing for the words flowing from the client’s mouth to illustrate the needs. I uncover the risks and develop the articulation best digested by the client in efforts to make for a very easy transition from Need to Business. While this happens in a matter of seconds, I typically allow for pause to allow for counter arguments to be negotiated in my head before allowing myself to speak out the words of action. This time was no different. As if commanding an incident response action in a forward operating post in the middle of hell and lives depended on it, I communicated with my friend, the Marine, in a manner of which I thought he would understand, and be able to relay without fail.
#WhenEgoPrevails: Thirst vs. Diligence
“Sounds Good. Let’s get this wrapped up in an agreement. But not a second before we get the Non-Disclosure in place.” I ran my soup coolers quicker than Speedy Gonzales in those fractals of a moment. “See if the client’s legal team would like for us to red line one and then we will go from there….”
Ten minutes this went on and on from my side. I could hear him literally jotting down every precise action, but also what I dismissed then, his hesitation. I could sense he was taking deep breaths, and a little bit enamored with the size, girth, and monstrosity of such a client. In tandem with the tactical direction I was giving him for a special needs client, I was also steering him into starting his own firm and playing the middle of negotiating this entire operation on his own. He was nervous, but this was his time. My mind was also saying, “Let him swim, give him this whale. It was his hook, so allow him to take this client on by hand.” And I did.
Along with the logistical layout of how this deal would secure itself, I also armed him with weapons of mass destruction. Crossing lines of business and pleasure all in moments notice with the vibrations emitting from my vocal cords. Within 1 hour, I had given him the tactical layout without filter. This included how to secure this client’s communications, how to encapsulate all of the future communications to ensure any eavesdropping would be close to impossible to penetrate. For all intents and purposes, I gave this marine a way to “think” beyond the utilization of my firms services. (In honesty, that was never the case. I just wanted to give my friend the tools needed to boost his esteem. He could negotiate this client’s request with his unique skills and my skills with a #NoSecrets undertone).
Days progressed. Weeks passed. And my friend, the Marine, is giving me the feedback from the client almost on a play-by-play basis. It seems the client, as he understands, wants to develop their own BlackWater-esque ParaMiliatry force. The Client and The Lawyer had my friend working around the clock, requesting resumes, critiquing people, and at first glance a barrage of unprofessional things not becoming of any client I have ever stumbled upon. Now, I know based on experience what is normal and what isn’t from my perspective. But a perspective lived is not as easily bestowed upon the unseen or the laymen. As the days continue, I engage some of my mentors to see if they would be open to dissecting the unpleasant truth I am began to feel. But I didn’t want to lay it on to my friend without crushing his excitement.
On week 3 without any strong contract in place, 10k in the hole, and no concrete day for payment, excited is not the right word to describe how he felt. He was torn, worn down at the idea this had all been a scheme. The motives had yet been deciphered, but being paid was moving farther and farther from the goal post. See the “client” was good at choosing a target. One eager for money. When the client wanted to speak with me directly, this idea was immediately brushed from their head when they saw the contracts, and NDA, SOWs, and business documents that my business partner and our team put together for us. This client even signed these documents, unbeknownst to me under a false name, but never the less they were signed.
My friend, however, spent many of dollar and conducted countless interviews with very highly skilled Tactical, Executive Protection, Special Force type people from the around the globe. And yes, based on the numbers coming from the “clients mouth,” I myself solicited a few good candidates to his email for interview. All of which were either turned down for either not being attractive enough, not sexy enough, too attached to family. I mean the most asinine reasons known to exist. But I wanted to help, and I wanted to secure the business. And more realistically, in this field of work, while we teach, preach, and expect professionalism at all costs. More times than not there are deviations to either side of the spectrum.
It was only a few days ago during meditation became tired of my friend being down. And I decided to put on my other hat and “play the field,” press the button so to speak, and bring this game to an end. I asked him to inform the client of the “line,” no more drama, no more excuses, and playtime was over. All business and nothing personal, the emotional game is fun, but it’s painful without any compensation and pure torment with empty promises. I had tired of telling my associates that I didn’t know what was happening with the interview process, or that they were not what the client was looking for, because of one simple reason or another. But there comes a time when you have to let the cat do its dance. Just read the paw prints left behind.
When the time came, nothing could be affirmed. The OSINT I conducted along with actually speaking with the OFFICIAL Client’s representative indicated an ongoing scheme yet to be completed. My friend; out of contacts, money, and resources; expended a lot of time and energy and, to my dismay, armed the client with the basics to make any digital foot printing impossible. (Wait for it.) We had made together the proper enemy. The one who knew a con, but understood cyber now. As I write this memoir, I’m informing each of the individuals I submitted their emails, photos, and resumes to this position to sanitize their emails, change passwords, place freezes on their credit reports, and stand by for any fuckery while me and my team work diligently to dig into the fuckery that I placed these people in.
#Rule Number 1: While there are #NoSecrets, you never give them all away. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Memoir; I don’t want to spoil anything in the ongoing investigation for this. But, it will be great.
#Rule Number 2: Not all things that sound too good to be true are. But when things don’t check out after your own contractual lines, it’s time to cut your ties. Begin damage control, and forget your ego. Things will settle themselves naturally.
#Rule Number 3: In the days of Cyber Exploitation, it’s in your best interest to create an anonymous email address. You leverage that for correspondence with possible employers. No matter what the play is, best to always play it safe. ProtonMail, TutaNota, or the like, don’t register your real name and information to these services. People can extract it from a myriad of other OSINT Sources.
#Rule Number 4: If you make a mistake, own up to it, get in front of it, and negotiate it. Fear and lies only make things worse. If you are the beast, or Goddess, you see yourself as, know you can negotiate all things. #Truth. It took me 34 hours to get in the mood to write this, because I felt bad about it. That was then. I got over it. #WatchWhatsNext